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I first heard Kurena Ishikawa on a video that a friend of mine showed me of her performing at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Tokyo. Ishikawa played double bass and played a stripped down version of Michael Jackson’s off the wall.
It completely changed the atmosphere of the original song. In Ms Ishikawa’s hands a dancefloor classic full of life became much more emotive, in particular with her plaintive voice, but still danceable.
The main reason why I bought Ms Ishikawa’s self titled album on CD was for a studio recording of her Off The Wall performance. I had high expectations as the album has been released on the Japanese arm of the Verve record label. Verve is home to the largest back catalogue of jazz standards.
Kurena as an album doesn’t disappoint. The tracks are sparse and the instruments given room to breathe. At 34 minutes the album can’t be measured by the length of the recording but the quality within.
The album starts off with Sea Wasp which feels like a seamless mix of bossanova type vocals laid over a light jazz backdrop. The percussion evokes the winds and waves of the beach. The harder you listen, the more you get out of the track. I decided to listen to the rest of the album on a pair of AKG K872 headphones, which allowed for an open yet more detailed listening experience.
500 Miles High has Ishikawa’s vocals leading a more free-form experimental track, taking us from crashing surf to the sky. Bird of Beauty brings back a more Brazilian feel to the recordings with the focus again on Kurena Ishikawa’s lilting vocals.
Olea takes the tempo right down and focuses on the interplay of double bass, jazz drums and piano.
The album version of Off The Wall sees Ishikawa play double bass and sing unaccompanied. The performance while really good, feels incongruous with the rest of the album content. Despite this I can wholeheartedly recommend Kurena as a great album. It deserves to be focused on as a listening experience as could easily disappear to the background through a casual listen.
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